In tribute: A man of dignity, Oklahoma’s Ben Shanker, died ‘at the high point of Yom Kippur’. He and his wife Shirley, of blessed memory, were my…

Posted By on October 15, 2022

I heard the news from RabbiObadia Goldman: With sadness we inform you of the passing of

Binyomin ben Yakov Ben Shankerof Blessed Memory, A prince of a man; a dear, dear friend and a longtime supporter of Chabad Community Center and so many other good causes.

The good Rabbi continued, His loss will be deeply felt. He passed away at the high point of Yom Kippur, at the age of 98.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 17, 1924, Ben passed away on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Friends, family and admirers were gathering from near and far today (Sunday, October 9) for his funeral.

Over the years, I always thought of his wife,Shirley(who died in 2019), whenever I thought of Ben, and vice versa.

That was natural. Most of my conversations with either were also an exchange with the other.

They were true partners, and are survived, as the Chabad Rabbi noted, by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.


Across more than three decades, from 1990 on, my life intersected with the lives of the Shankers. Not as often as I might have preferred, but often enough to become a cherished set of memories.

In October 2013, at a place in Israel known as the Mount of Beatitudes, of necessity I spent my time of rest, my Sabbath, on the Jewish Sabbath. I spent a couple of hours there (not long enough) often turning my gaze across the Sea of Galilee.

My 10 days in Israel included part of an evening with a couple whose son was murdered more than a decade before before in the desert near Efrat. I had first met them when they previously visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, after the death of their son, Koby.

I had metSeth and Sherri Mandellat theOklahoma National Memorialin 2012, during a visit arranged by Rabbi Goldman'sChabad Community Center.

In our time together at the Memorial, I learned of the work they have done to salve the horrendous wound of those murders, which drew worldwide attention at the time.

They coordinated camps and seminars for families who have suffered the sort of unimaginable loss they endured. The Koby Mandell Foundation has garnered worldwide support.

Seth, a rabbi, told me, Even during the first week after our sons murder, I knew I wanted to do something to remember him and help people understand what had happened.

Sherri, once a non-observant Jew, became a passionate believer during her years in Tekoa (their home at the time of Kobys murder.

At our 2012 meeting here in Oklahoma City, she told me, Everything we do is connected with his name. I believe that gives me a real connection to Kobys soul, and that his soul is in Heaven. I dont want to say this is or was a revelation, rather that it was a development for me.

Sherri gave me her book, The Blessing of a Broken Heart (The Toby Press, London, 237 pages).

From our interview at the memorial, I had thought I knew the Mandells, but did not understand them until I absorbed the gripping narrative of Sherris book. She wrote that her broken heart will never be the same, but she believes God has blessed her with a new heart.

And, this: When you touch broken hearts together, a new heart emerges, one that is more open and compassionate, able to touch others, a heart that seeks God.

On page after page, she compared the death of her eldest child to the worse form of labor, a pain that will never leave. Death no longer scares me, she says, yet the weight of her sons death follows her everywhere, even into my dreams.

Still, she and Seth traveled on, giving the gift of silence, companionship and sacrifice.

That same evening on the West Bank, I visited Ben & Shirleys daughter, raised in Oklahoma City, living with her husband and family in the West Bank area.

Later during that trip, I met fellow Oklahomans for dinner at a hotel that bears the name of King David, near the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall. Among those present was Rabbi Goldman, who prayed for all present, for those we love and those with whom we agree, and disagree.

In Israel, those were times of peace and of rest, affirmation in a lifes journey, moments I shall never forget.

I shared all my stories about Israel with Ben & Shirley when I returned to Oklahoma.

Then, in 2014, Shirley and Ben were honorary co-chairs for an event honoring Dick and Jeanine Sias, to benefit the Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE). They were there to support co-chairs with Herman and LaDonna Meinders, and Dick and Glenna Tanenbaum.

Along the way, it was in July 2014 that I joined friends on a windy Wednesday at Lake Hefner where we mourned the death of three Israeli boys, tortured and murdered in Israel and an Arab lad who was murdered in apparent retaliation for the killing of the trio of the Israeli boys.

At that event, I heard the prayers of a pair of lady Rabbis.

RabbiAbby JacobsonofEmanuel Synagogue, RabbiVered Harrisof Temple BNai Israel, and zemer (singer) Linda Sweeney sang Psalms 23 and 130. They called for us, unto a loving and living God, from out of the depths alongside not-so-still waters.

Rabbi Abby spoke of practical actions,Tikkum Olam, steps to repair our world. While that requires human action, it can only take place under the sovereignty of God.

Rabbi Vered praised the sad and gentle tune that Carl Rubemstein had played on his flute. Vered said taking the time to remember such things honors the breadth of our tradition.

Rabbi Vereds visage was alternately illuminated in joyful memory, then drawn with care as she mourned for other mothers, over other lost children. In those moments, she bore a beauty like no other.

Two mothers, both rabbis in this community I love. Quietly, in my heart and, for a moment, outside, I wept.


In 2017, theOklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE)held its annual gala at the Civic Center in mid-November, drawing several hundred supporters to a fine evening meal and a series of award presentations. After the awards program, gala participants attended the Oklahoma City Philharmonics classics concert, which featured members of the Israeli Philharmonic as guest performers.

That evening was topped off with a champagne and chocolate reception hosted by Lance and Cindy Ruffel to honor Shirley, that years recipient of the OKIE Presidents Highest Honor for her decades of community involvement in a wide range of worthy causes.

Ben introduced his sweetheart of 67 years before the room of admirers. He honored the presence of their children and many other family members who had traveled from across the United States and, in the case of the same daughter, had flown in from Israel to honor the beloved matriarch of the extended Shanker family.

Among the political leaders attending the OKIE event were state Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and state Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, as well as Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony and Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

(OKIEs formal purpose is to foster enhanced cooperation between the state of Israel and the state of Oklahoma in commerce, agriculture, culture and education.)

Past OKIE honorees, including philanthropist Melvin Moran, came to the fete for Mrs. Shanker. Former state Rep. Joe Dorman, now running theOklahoma Institute for Child Advocacywas there, along with another former Solon Mark Liotta, who at that time was chairman of the Workers Compensation Commission. That group and I sat together, trading stories of politics and people over dinner, joining in the tribute which was also a tribute, of course, to Ben.

In the time that followed, I had conversations with the loving couple over the phone or at Chabad gatherings.

I have a couple of sweet hand-written notes from Ben and/or Shirley, hiding somewhere in one of my boxes, not yet re-discovered.

As is often the case, I wish I could have had just one more encounter, with each of them, before they left.

Now, duty leads me to join, in spirit and in truth sacred to me, in memorial of the dead, the prayer that observant Jews pray all over the world the ancient Kaddish. I prayed today it as well. It is a communal prayer, but I prayed it in solidarity, n memory, and with love, thinking of Ben and Shirley.

The Kaddish translates from Hebrew like this:

Glorified and sanctified be Gods great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

Originally posted here:

In tribute: A man of dignity, Oklahoma's Ben Shanker, died 'at the high point of Yom Kippur'. He and his wife Shirley, of blessed memory, were my...

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